Reviewing Feasting and Fasting, a recently published collection of scholarly essays on Jewish food, Joel Haber concludes that while it “may not be the best collection of essays on Jewish food studies ever compiled, it works well as an introduction to the topic,” and includes “genuine food for thought . . . on specific topics.” Haber highlights some of the more compelling segments:
Jordan Rosenblum’s “A Brief History of Jews and Garlic” is as enlightening as it is concise. In a few short pages, he traces the Jewish love affair with garlic from its biblical roots (Numbers 11:4-6) through its associations with Shabbat by the talmudic rabbis. He continues with the non-Jewish recognition of this affinity, and its weaponization for anti-Semitic purposes.
In “Jews, Schmaltz, and Crisco in the Age of Industrial Food,” Rachel B. Gross explores American Jewry’s coming-of-age at the time of food’s mass production.
Even more intriguing—considering how quickly the details have been forgotten despite the subject’s relative recency—is Zev Eleff’s “The Search for Religious Authenticity and the Case of Passover Peanut Oil.” As a study of “lived religion,” Eleff highlights how peanut oil was widely accepted for Passover use by most Ashkenazim until the current century, with OU certification until 2001, and not included in the “forbidden by custom” category of kitniyot. The reversal, he posits, grew out of the “perceived authenticity” of those who were more stringent, banning its use on Passover
Finally, in a prime example of food revealing culture, Katalin Franciska Rac reveals “How Shabbat Cholent Became a Secular Hungarian Favorite.” Surprisingly, sólet (as the stew is known in Hungary) is widely eaten by non-Jewish Hungarians, often including pork products, and not specifically as a dish for the Sabbath (either theirs, on Sunday, nor that of the Jews the day before). Rac succinctly shows how this reflects the historic integration of Jews into wider Hungarian society, and the two-way street of culinary influence between the communities.